Click on through to read the post-race transcript of the interview with Martin Truex, Jr., the winner of the 2021 NASCAR Instacart 500, from Phoenix…
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by our race winner. How are you?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Wonderful.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll get right into questions for you.
Q. After you had the long pit stop to fix the car, I think they told you they fixed it. How long did it take you to really know it was fixed?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Well, that run right after that, it still wasn’t great. It was the next pit stop, more adjustments on the car, that it felt like now we’ve got something. I didn’t really know it was that good until I got up. We got deep into that long run, I think I got up to about fifth, and I could see the next couple guys in front of me, I’m like, Dang, we came from like 17th or 18th on that restart. That’s when I knew it was pretty good.
Q. Does this give you any sort of boost if you’re in the final four when you come back in November?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Huge boost. Huge confidence. I’ll be honest with you, if we would have come here last year in the final four, I would have been not very confident. Last year we struggled here for some reason. It’s never been our greatest track, I’ll say that. It’s always been just okay. I’ve never come here with a really warm, fuzzy feeling that we’re going to go there and win, we’re going to go there and be really, really strong and lead laps.
That was definitely a nice surprise today. Really just hats off to all the guys for the hard work. Everybody that builds the cars, puts in all the effort back at JGR, Toyota.
We took a huge swing at the car for this race. We knew what we’ve been doing here in the past two races wasn’t good. Car didn’t do anything I needed it to do. We just went to work on it. James and the guys did an awesome job with that. Really happy about it.
Really happy you didn’t ask me a retirement question today, as well (laughter). Gotcha!
Q. Up on the pit stand after you won the race, a big celebration. Did this team need this after last year? Did you need a big win like this?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: I wouldn’t say we needed it. I’d say we really were hungry for it. We really wanted it, obviously. We worked really hard. We’ve got a great team. It seemed like for whatever reason, it was always little things that were biting us. We were always so close, always second or third. I don’t know how many times we’ve been second, third, fourth, top five since we won last year at Martinsville. It’s been a bunch.
It’s like, Man, what do we have to do to turn it around so it’s our day? I think that’s probably what you see, a little bit of relief and excitement for how hard the guys have really worked to put together all the details and make it happen.
We’ve got a great bunch. I’ve said that from day one. James is doing a great job. Hopefully we can use this momentum and just continue to do what we need to do.
Q. Five different winners, you’re the first one that’s going to be a repeat returner to the Playoffs from last year. Is it time for guys to start getting worried?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: No, no, it’s way too early for that. We got a long way to go.
Q. Such a big gap between wins. Were you surprised it was 29 races? James was changed as the crew chief, but the car was running well, you had your opportunities.
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: No, I mean, that’s not a lot really. I’ve been a whole lot longer than that in my career. I don’t look at those numbers. I don’t really pay attention to it.
We’ve been running strong. Towards the end of last year, the Playoffs came around, we really performed well, did a lot of good things. Had a lot of tough breaks, didn’t have a lot to show for it. That’s just fuel, fuel for the fire in the off-season to work harder and make sure we can do what we need to do.
Yeah, 29 is nothing. I never even thought about it, to be honest. We’ve been capable of winning a lot of races between the last one and the one today. These races are really hard to win. That’s really all I can say about it.
Thankful for today. We’ll celebrate and enjoy this one, get back to work tomorrow for next weekend.
You never know when your last one is going to be, you’ve got to enjoy them all. I’m certainly really proud of this one.
Q. Did you set a goal like when you got to 20 wins, you wanted to get to 30? Do you set goals like that? Do you chase the next spot on the all-time thing, or 30, or do you give any thought into that at all?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: No, I don’t. I don’t chase numbers or anything. I do this because I love it. I do it to be part of a team and have that camaraderie and to challenge myself.
There’s days when I feel like I can win a couple more championships. There’s days when I say to myself I’ve done a lot, I’m really lucky to have done what I’ve done, to win championships in this series and in the Xfinity Series, win a bunch of races. It’s been really fun.
When I moved to North Carolina as a 24-year-old, I never would have thought I would be able to accomplish all the things I have. So from that standpoint I’m really excited.
But the more success you have, the more you want it, I feel like. We’re ready to have some more, that’s for sure. We’ve got a ways to go.
THE MODERATOR: We are also joined by our race winning crew chief, James Small. We’ll continue with questions for Martin and James.
Q. Curious about the final restart that helped get you to victory. The deeper numbers show you’re one of the best restarters in the series. Was that something you did or Joey didn’t do? What helped you on that final restart?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Just got a good jump, was able to stay side-by-side with him getting into turn one. That’s really the key. Then he drove into one and kind of slid up, slid us both up the hill. Once that happened, I was able to grab the PJ1, get a good run off.
If he would have drove in, maybe wrapped the bottom better, maybe he would have cleared me. Like I said, he drove in deep, I drove in deeper. We both slid up the track. That’s usually the way it goes. Luckily I drove in deeper than he did.
Q. We saw Brad on the start almost hit the pit wall. Can that be an advantage or a danger at some point?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: If you really make a bad mistake, you’re going to end up crashed. That’s never good.
But this place is pretty wild on the restarts. The restart prior to the last one, I guess it would be, I restarted third behind Joey. I got a really good start. I was right on his bumper turning down from the start/finish line down across the apron. I actually got into him, turned sideways, I had to lift. I lost like four spots because I thought I was going to crash it.
That’s how close it is every restart, really. You’re bumping and banging, especially to try to get the guy in front of you going forward. It’s real easy to get in trouble on restart, especially when you start getting three- and four-wide.
Q. How much would this race have been different without the traction compound applied today?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: I mean, it’s hard to say honestly. I mean, if you have no traction compound, everybody races around the bottom. If you have traction compound, everybody tries to use it to the best of their advantage.
Either way you look at it, you have a preferred groove. It just so happens that now with PJ1, it’s up the racetrack. Without it it’s at the bottom.
I thought the PJ1 today for whatever reason maybe wasn’t as sticky as the last time we were here. I don’t know if it’s because the Xfinity cars wore it off some yesterday and they didn’t reapply it. We’ve seen guys being able to work the bottom. I worked quite a lot of guys underneath them when they were in the PJ1 to make a pass.
To answer your question, it’s hard to say without knowing. It seems like every race here is a little bit different. It just would have been everybody fighting for the bottom if there was no PJ1.
Q. James, you guys had a good year last year if you look at the numbers, but only one win. Did you feel more pressure coming into this year to win more? What does it feel like to get the win this early in the season?
JAMES SMALL: Yeah, definitely. Nobody remembers who finished second or third. We had really strong races last year and just didn’t execute. Wins are what matters in this sport. It’s definitely a relief to get one this early. Make sure we’re locked into the chase.
Now we can just concentrate on refining what we do every week, try to get more wins, more bonus points. That’s ultimately in the Playoffs where we struggled, was the bonus point count. Hopefully this is a step in the right direction for that.
Q. Martin, are you going to be doing any dirt racing in advance of the Cup Series race at Bristol?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Probably. I’m not sure where yet, though, or how, but probably (smiling). Stay tuned.
Q. Martin, you mentioned your string of third-place finishes and second-place finishes last year. Was there anything that you or James recognized as a potential improvement to gain that extra one or two spots? Any small detail that you saw that was relevant enough to improve in the off-season?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: I think it just depends on what track you’re talking about really. They’re all so unique. Different packages are different. You got the short track package, you got the high downforce 550, then a lot of road courses this year.
To answer your question, I think we just pick apart every racetrack and every package to try to figure out how to be the best we can be at them. I think for here today in particular, we knew it was a struggle for us. It wasn’t a strong point. James and Jazzy and the guys really worked hard on trying to get the car to do what I needed it to do here.
I think just to answer your question, every track is a little different. For here there were certain things I needed the car to do that it wasn’t doing. Other tracks it could be the spotter, other tracks it could be the way the cars are built, or some things I can do behind the wheel as well.
We look at every avenue. James will tell you the same thing. He’s really good at looking at all the details, finding things that stick out that say, Hey, we need to do this better, we need to do that better.
JAMES SMALL: He said it right. I just don’t think people understand how hard it is with no practice, to try to be perfect every week. It takes a lot of effort, a lot of refinement, everything we can do just to be good off the truck.
Today we started bad. Some of our assumptions were off. We tried a lot of different things this time. We got back from Phoenix last year, we sucked, we finished 10th. We were unhappy with how we ran. Jazzy and I started working straight away the week after on what we’re going to do to get better. All off-season we’ve worked on that.
Once we got the car balance right today, you saw all the dividends for all the work we put in, the changes we made. Hopefully he can be back in the four and we can get better then.
Q. Martin, a year ago this race, there was only one JGR car in the top 10, today you have three cars in the top 10. Looking at Phoenix specifically, how do you feel this bodes for November?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Well, November’s a long ways off. I’ll tell you for me personally, I think for our team, this helps a lot confidence-wise. I think if we would have came here last year in the final four, as I mentioned earlier, we would have been pretty nervous and not very optimistic. As James said, we sucked last year here (laughter).
Confidence is a big deal. But usually you’re confident because you’ve had past success, you can build on those things, you understand the racetrack, you understand how to make the car do certain things.
I think from that standpoint, this is a big boost for us to knock this one out today, and now know if we can get here in the final four, we know what it takes, and we have what it takes to be able to get the job done here.
Q. Short-term future, the company started the season well. Seems like today was more complete all the way through the organization. How do you feel the next maybe month or two looks for JGR as a whole right now?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: I think today was important because we knew at the end of last year we needed to work on our short track program. I think there was a lot of effort focused on that in the off-season. Coming here, I don’t know that we were real sure exactly how it was going to look. Who is going to be strong? Are we going to be strong?
I think to answer some of those questions is good, and to have a good, strong base is good, something we can build on. A lot more short tracks coming up this year and a lot of races with this particular package this year, including road courses. It’s an important one. It’s good to have a good day starting the first one off.
You still continue to work and try to find things because everybody else is.
Q. Martin, Joey said he took the inside line because that’s what he’s always done since there’s been a choice, it’s always worked for him. When you got down there into one, saw what your position was relative to him, were you surprised that he wasn’t able to get out in front there?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Just to rewind. I was not surprised he chose the bottom because he had chose the bottom on every restart and got the lead. If I was the leader, I probably would have chose the bottom as well.
Generally on new tires for a lap or two, the bottom is a little bit faster. It just happened that I got a really good jump, side-by-side with him going into one. I think he got tight or something. He ran way up the racetrack. I was turning kind of to the right, letting my car go up the hill as well, to keep him from running into the left side of me.
I’m guessing he just drove in, got tight. We both ended up pretty high on the track. When that happened, I was able to grab the PJ1 with my right sides and get the thing turned, get on the gas pretty early. That’s really what made the difference.
I think if he wrapped the bottom, he might have been able to clear me. I’m not sure what happened, if he just got tight or overdrove the entry.
Q. Martin, you obviously seemed very surprised when you got out of your car with the win. Were you more surprised that you ran really well at a track that you’ve struggled at recently or that you were able to overcome one of these hiccup issues early in the race that has kept you from Victory Lane?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: I think it was a little bit of everything honestly. Just being kind of surprised how everything worked out today. Sometimes it’s just your day. You feel like you couldn’t do anything wrong.
Obviously today we made a few little mistakes. I hit the fence obviously. We were way too tight the start of the race. To be able to overcome that was good. Then you start having cautions towards the end. We weren’t really good on the short run. It’s like, Is this going to keep happening? Are we going to not get a long run to where we could get back to the lead?
It all just played out. It’s one of those times when you feel like you’ve been in this position before and you’ve done everything right, you didn’t win. Now you’re in the same position and you did.
It’s just a crazy feeling. You just get kind of reminiscent, thankful. Honestly, I was just confused. I wasn’t allowed to do a burnout. That really sucked (laughter). James is like, No burnout, we need this engine for Darlington. That really just kind of took the wind out of my sails.
I was so jacked up, so excited, ready to just have some fun out there. I’m like, Okay, I can’t do anything. Now I got to park here. My guys, I can’t see them. Victory Lane is like four people. The whole thing is weird. It’s not as exciting as Victory Lane should be, I guess to answer your question. That was part of it.
Q. James, when everybody went to the mile-and-a-half tracks, it was like a bunch of different names up there, surprise, underdog type people having their day. For the short track race, it wasn’t like that at all. It was the usual suspects. Do you have any theory on why the strong teams were able to do so much better at the short tracks out of the gate than at the mile-and-a-half tracks?
JAMES SMALL: Not really, to be honest, less (indiscernible), more talent. I think eventually here, like I said before, I think it will just return to the average, to the mean. You’re going to see the same guys who are going to be running in the top five every week. Ultimately, once they get their stuff worked out, like all the off-season changes and everything, it’s going to be the best drivers, the best teams.
Not taking anything away from anyone that’s won so far, but I feel like that’s what will happen. You’ll see the regular guys back at the front.
Q. Martin, you seemed really excited after the race, especially to see the fans. It was this race a year ago, the last kind of normal NASCAR race. What was it like hopping out of the car and getting to hear the fans cheer?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: It was great. It was real great. Had more infield energy at the grid pre-race here than we’ve been used to here lately. There were a bunch of people in there. They’re yelling at you walking out pit road before the race. You see them wearing T-shirts, hats of their favorite drivers and things.
That’s what NASCAR is. It’s going to the track with your family, supporting your favorite driver, having a good time. It was definitely fun. It was definitely a good change to see them. To hear the cheers after the race, the excitement about the race, was fun as well.
Hopefully every week we can have more and more people. I can’t wait till the days when everything’s crowded again. I hate the traffic after the race, but I’ll deal with it for having the fans here.
Q. Martin, it was said you were going to run the truck race at Bristol.
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Damn, they spilled the beans (laughter)? Okay, yeah, we are. We’re going to run the truck race.
Q. Obviously with Kyle Busch Motorsports?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Yes, I’ll run Kyle’s truck. He said I could drive it for free, so I did it (laughter).
Q. It took you 31 tries to get a win here. What had been the problem in the past for you? What made the difference today specifically?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: That’s a good question. I think there’s been times throughout the years where I felt like we were really close. I remember back in ’07 I led a bunch of laps here, felt like the car to beat. Towards the end of the race I think everybody pitted and we stayed out as the leader. We were the only one who stayed out and finished fifth or sixth on old tires.
Back in DI days, I ran pretty good here at times. I think it was ’17 or ’18, we ran second to Kenseth here. Strong, led a bunch, faded late.
It depends, to answer your question, a little bit on the season, the package, you name it. This place has been through so many changes. You think 31 races, different cars, different packages, different rules, different tires, different track configurations. There’s been a lot of changes throughout those years for me. Different teams obviously. It’s been different things at different times.
Right now for us, we just focused really on this package, rules package, with this car in the past few times we’ve been here, which is really all you can go off of.
A lot has changed over the years, to answer your question. What changed from last year to this year was focusing on this particular package, what we had to do here to make it better.
Honestly, I probably had cars that felt better than what I had to do. With the track being the way it is, this tire wearing out, the track getting as slick as it is, we were good enough to win. That’s really what it’s all about.
Yeah, it’s definitely a moving target in this sport, everything is, everywhere we go. James talked about rules changes in the off-season. Nobody even knows about them because they’re so small, but they make a big difference. This sport is always changing, you’re always searching for speed, searching for how you can be better in the competition.
Q. When is the last time you raced on dirt? Are you looking forward to it? Are you nervous, scared?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: I’m excited. I’m excited about it. I’ve only raced twice on dirt. Both of them were at Schrader’s, having a charity race out in Missouri, did that a few times in a modified. I grown up on four-wheelers and motorcycles. It’s going to be a learning curve for sure.
I look at it as Bristol has been our worst track for the past couple years. Why the heck not lay down dirt and see what we can do? I think it’s going to be fun. New challenge, something different.
Q. How does it feel after so many times coming close or not coming close to finally win at Phoenix?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: It feels great. Honestly, it feels like a really great accomplishment to be able to do that today, to be able to overcome the things we did, just really as a team never give up on it, keep working hard on things.
Nobody lost their cool. I screwed up and hit the wall early on, damaged the right rear. Nobody was screaming and yelling or losing their mind. Just a good team effort. Good pit stops all day.
Really coming here, working on the things we talked about, the approach that the guys took, it’s something really special to be able to listen to me complaining about the car and saying, Here is the things I need it to do that it doesn’t do, go make it do that. When they make it do that, it’s really cool. I’m really thankful and happy for them that all their hard work is paying off.
Obviously it was a lot of fun to drive that today. Just a cool day. A very important race because of the championship race. Very special. It’s always nice to check a new track off the list.
Q. Last year at this time you had just run at Phoenix, then were shut down. What do you remember about that time? How great is it to be back racing in front of fans, winning?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: I just remember getting ready to go to Atlanta. I literally woke up out of bed, was getting ready to go to the airport and fly out. Yeah, the race is canceled. That was like the strangest thing ever. I never had a race get canceled I don’t think my whole life. That was definitely a strange feeling.
But obviously glad that we were able to get the whole season in. Everybody did an amazing job of coming up — being able to do what we did from the team standpoint, NASCAR, everybody involved. What an awesome job to get all those races in, finish the season on time. That was really good.
This year, I feel like everything has gone smoothly. It’s been nice to have more fans at these tracks lately. Hopefully we can continue to bring more.
THE MODERATOR: That’s all the time we have. Thank you so much for taking some time with us. Congratulations on the win. We will see you in Atlanta.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports